When we feel threatened, we reflexively pull our essential self away from the surface, hiding it deep inside. If we grew up in an abusive home, our essence might remain locked away indefinitely, lacking a safe place to practice being visible.
Pulled in for safety
We hide for safety, and at the same time we long to feel seen and supported. We might feel proud of our ability to hide our emotions behind a calm facade. We might feel distant, isolated, and alone no matter how hard we try to connect. We might feel the need to rip ourselves open wide enough for people to see inside. We might feel easily invaded because we are not fully inhabiting ourselves.
Fear leads us to pull in, or perhaps extend outward to sensitively track the people around us in an attempt to predict what they will do next. Anger leads us to push out, flaring larger than our skin boundary, or perhaps pull in because anger feels too dangerous to show.
Find your edges
If you are comfortable with gentle touch, brush your fingers along your arm to encourage awareness there. Tune in to both the touching hand and the receiving arm. Brush or gently cup your face and neck, and meet your touch from the inside. This is your surface, an integral part of your living body.
Sense whether you feel pulled in, or pushed out, or filled up to the edges of your skin. If your breath is tight and shallow, you might be pulling in. If your jaw is clenched, you might be pushing out. If you feel yourself meeting the chair under you and the air around you, you might be inhabiting your whole body out to your edges.
Do you navigate gracefully around physical obstacles, or do you routinely walk into doorway edges and furniture corners? Bumping into things can be a sign that you are withdrawn inside or dissociating from your body entirely.
Support from the earth
Another way to find your edges is to soften into support. You can lie on the floor, on the ground outside, or on your bed. Or you can sit in a chair, or lean against a wall.
Find a comfortable position, and give yourself plenty of time there. Let yourself be heavy. Invite your body to soften. How would it feel to fully trust the surface you are resting on, like a child being securely held?
You belong to the earth. You are part of the earth. No matter how separate or isolated you feel, you are a natural part of this natural world. Let your surface meet the surface supporting you. Let yourself be met.
Present and responsive
Do you pull in when startled or threatened, and then relax into your full self in a safe environment? The goal is to be flexible and responsive rather than frozen at any one level of contact.
As a child, pulling in was one of the few survival skills available. As an adult, you have more skills and resources that make it possible to inhabit your full body as you navigate difficult situations. Your skin might tingle or feel chilled or blush hotly, signaling your responses to yourself and others.
Put down the shovel
When we concentrate our presence and awareness deep inside, we tend to turn inward to solve problems. The persistence to keep digging can be a crucial survival skill, and yet some recurring issues do not yield to that approach.
If you recognize something in you that doggedly keeps going and tries to fix everything, experiment with putting down the shovel. Step back and invite this exhausted, determined inner child to come out and meet you. Embody a warm, welcoming space for the child to be exactly as they are for as long as they want. Breathe with the child, and keep them company.
Stay at the surface
When you notice yourself digging in about an ongoing issue, bring your awareness to your edges, and get a sense of how the whole issue sits in your body. Keep company with how that feels for a while. It might feel vague, queasy, uncertain, quiet, or it might feel loud, definite, opinionated, emotional. It might stay the same, or it might begin to change as you give it both attention and space.
If staying at the surface feels awkward, disconnected, or out of control, keep company with that feeling itself. How you feel about connecting with an issue is often part of the issue.
Work less hard
Staying at the surface might feel like not working hard enough. It is the opposite of “no pain, no gain.” At the same time, more ease might be exactly what is needed. Stepping back might loosen an inner deadlock that is reinforced by digging in.
Surviving trauma is hard work. Healing from trauma is hard work. Living through a pandemic is hard work. Allow yourself to experiment with working less hard for a while. You might find that inhabiting your surface gives you more of what you were working hard to find.
- “Focusing” by Eugene T. Gendlin, PhD describes paying attention to how your body holds a whole problem rather than digging into it.